- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Washington Redskins players are realists. They realize that a few more bad performances essen-tially would end their season. They know that a major turnaround is all but impossible. But they haven't given up.
That's what several key players are saying in private conversations this week despite the overwhelming external opinion that their season is beyond repair.
The players acknowledge frustration, embarrassment and surprise at the 0-3 record and 112-16 cumulative scoring deficit. But they say that they haven't given up hope, and that things are, in contrast to the external view of the team, moving in the right direction.
To outsiders, Washington appears finished. The starters never played well during the preseason, weren't competitive in the opener at San Diego (a 30-3 loss) and collapsed after decent starts at Green Bay (37-0) and against the Kansas City Chiefs (45-13).
The defense held through the first two games but yielded 546 yards Sunday to a previously winless team. The offense finally showed a spark Sunday with new quarterback Tony Banks but ultimately generated just 218 total yards. Both units rank last in the NFL.
Monday's meetings among Redskins players and coaches, and among players only, could mark a turning point. But players will grow more disenchanted with coach Marty Schottenheimer if they feel their concerns aren't addressed. Lending pessimism to that prospect was Schottenheimer's statement late Monday that change "won't be anything that's significant."
But there remain key points of optimism, some players say.
First, belief continues that the roster has enough talented players to win. Schottenheimer acknowledged as much Sunday night after Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil criticized the Redskins' talent.
The talent has played below its level because of an unexpectedly slow adaptation to Schottenheimer's system, some players say. Fullback Donnell Bennett and wide receiver Kevin Lockett, two Redskins who played under Schottenheimer at Kansas City, believe the adjustment eventually will happen.
"Imagine, God forbid, you as a kid were put out of your house," Bennett said. "Something happened. And you had to go live with someone else. There's going to be problems. There's going to be problems on your side, about the way they do things, and vice versa. That's kind of how we are now. We have to get our home in order."
Said Lockett: "It's easier for guys like myself, [guard] Dave Szott, Donnell Bennett, who have been under Marty before. But for the majority of this team, you've probably got 50 guys who have never been associated with Marty before. It's just a matter of everyone truly believing what he does works and putting their faith into it."
The second point of optimism relates to the system itself. Although many Redskins are not convinced that Schottenheimer's system will work, most remain hopeful. There were serious questions about the offensive philosophy before quarterback Jeff George was cut but now there is a growing sense that the players themselves must perform at a higher level.
Keep in mind: Twenty-three members of the 53-man roster have two or fewer seasons NFL experience. They're not scrutinizing Schottenheimer's system they're still learning the league. Most haven't formed substantive opinions about any system, and many are simply worried about keeping their jobs.
Among the other 30 players, most could be characterized as veterans brought in by Schottenheimer, veterans who are committed regardless of coach, role players who do not sway the collective opinion, or veterans who, while not singing Schottenheimer's gospel, are largely ambivalent.
What's left is a small, yet influential group of players whose eyebrows are raised conspicuously. Count defensive end Bruce Smith and cornerback Darrell Green, two future Hall of Fame selections, among this group.
Smith has been grumbling since training camp, which began with a difficult practice regimen and ended, for him, prematurely with a painful helmet-to-shoulder hit by since-cut guard Mookie Moore. Green, a Redskins icon in his 19th season with the club, has been marginalized in a variety of on- and off-field ways by Schottenheimer.
Neither Smith nor Green is bad-mouthing Schottenheimer, but their emotions can be felt. Their attitudes resonate because they are in positions of leadership even though they aren't Marco Coleman-style leaders.
The impact is greater because there aren't any Schottenheimer imports in leadership positions. He signed low-cost role players because of salary-cap constraints, and none of those players is being looked to for an example.
But both Smith and Green, it should be noted, are prideful players. If all else fails, particularly late in the season, both will play hard for their own careers.
It is this last sentiment that forms the third point of optimism. Although chemistry is gone for the time being and perhaps the season the Redskins' aforementioned talented players have, if nothing else, reputations to protect. And football, despite its team nature, often comes down to victories in one-on-one battles. Those battles will continue to be fought passionately.
While that is happening, if voices like that of Coleman, a Pro Bowl defensive end and consummate professional who spoke during Monday's players-only sessions, are heard, the team's mass of young players and ambivalent veterans might rally.
And if the Redskins' offense, defense and special teams all perform well in the same game, some players believe the result could contrast sharply with the 0-3 start. The team currently has no identity, and some players think that absence underlies the present funk.
As stated, the Redskins don't expect a rebirth. In fact, many acknowledge that the window is closing in which a solid performance would make a difference. But there is a distinct sense that the team hasn't unraveled, that every option hasn't been exhausted, that all hope isn't lost. In short, the popular external opinion does not match the true internal one.

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